Themes and Meanings

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

The Sporting Club, McGuane’s first novel, traces in rough outline the main themes that recur in his later novels: American society’s movement away from nature toward technology, the decline of American morality, and the disillusionment and alienation of an existential protagonist who is stranded between a depraved society and the beautiful but implacable natural world. The Centennial Club can be viewed as a microcosm of the larger world that McGuane treats with irony in such later works as Ninety-two in the Shade (1973), Nobody’s Angel (1982), and Something to Be Desired (1984).

The Sporting Club parodies a specific social class—the gentlemanly elite of the Northern Lower Peninsula who verbally espouse the ideals of tradition, sport, and moral conduct, but whose lives expose the lurid depravity at the heart of their abstract ideals. Narratively, the novel’s parodic action may be seen in the two official descriptions of the Centennial Club that frame the story. The first, the entry from “Blucher’s Annals of the North,” cites the Centennial Club as the “grandest of the original sporting clubs.” While steeped in tradition—“Its charter was written in 1868 while the big timber was being converted to pioneer houses on the treeless prairie of the West”—the Centennial Club is “shrouded in mystery.” Of its operations and procedures Blucher knows nothing. These “operations,”...

(The entire section is 448 words.)